The National Association of Scholars defines itself as “an independent membership association of academics and others working to foster intellectual freedom and to sustain the tradition of reasoned scholarship and civil debated in America’s colleges and universities.” The organization “advocates for excellence by encouraging commitment to high intellectual standards, individual merit, institutional integrity, good governance, and sound public policy.”
Dr. Stephen Balch founded the NAS in 1987 and served as its president until 2009. He currently serves as the director for the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.
Peter W. Wood, who received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Rochester in 1987, succeeded Balch as president of the NAS. Prior to joining the staff of the NAS, he taught at Boston University in the anthropology department.
“Students in general may have disagreed with his politics, but found him to be a very inspiring and tough teacher,” said Boston University Professor Tom Barfield, who was chair of the department during Wood’s tenure. Wood left Boston University to serve as provost of The King’s College in New York City, a Christian liberal arts college which Michael Toscano, the report’s co-author, attended.
One of the first major works published by NAS was a report titled “The Dissolution of General Education: 1914-1993,” which was published in 1996. As part of this study, NAS analyzed the curricula of the fifty top schools in the country, including Bowdoin and many of its NESCAC peers, noting the decrease in broad survey courses during that period. The 65-page report strikes the same note as “The Bowdoin Project,” suggesting, “in the debates over what students learn and ought to learn disagreement most commonly arises over whether the curriculum should be expanded to make it more ‘inclusive,’ ‘diverse,’ and ‘multicultural.’”
In October 2011, the National Association of Scholars co-signed an amicus curiae to the Supreme Court in support of Abigail Fisher in the case of Fisher v. Texas, which questions the legality of affirmative action in college admissions. On this matter, the group wrote that it was “dedicated to the principle of individual merit and opposes race, sex, and other group preferences.”
The NAS published “Recasting History: Are Race, Class and Gender Dominating American History?” in January of this year. Co-authored by Wood, it examines the changing scope of history courses within the University of Texas, Austin and Texas A&M. This study found that at both institutions—though it states that the problem is more pronounced at UT—race, class, and gender were over emphasized, to the detriment of “military, diplomatic, religious [and] intellectual history.”
In a March 2013 article titled “National Scholars’ Group Turns 25, Showing its Age,” Peter Schmidt, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, addressed the declining relevance of the NAS since its “height in the late 1990s.”
Shortly after the publication of this article, Peter Wood refuted many of its claims in an online comment on the Chronicle’s website. He argued that the NAS is a thriving organization that still has a powerful impact on the academic community.
Wood wrote, “The documentation we provide on the politicization of the curriculum and bias in faculty hiring rightly alarms the public, if not the faculty members and academic administrators who ought to be most concerned.”